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Christmas, British Style, And an Interesting Marriage

The British panto (short for pantomime) has rules. Strict ones: Ties to children’s stories are essential; current events must be alluded to; some of the jokes should be a tad smutty; good must triumph over evil; the audience must participate. And it has to be fun. And funny. Once again, The Ghent Playhouse panto, a production of the Panto-Loons, egged on by the very witty and very British (even though she has lived here for 52 years) Judy Staber, brings the novel holiday treat to American audiences, titled this year “Menagerie à Trois.” And it works, because at the heart of every panto is a stageful of over-the-top vaudevillians, starting with Cathy Lee-Visscher who has performed everything at the playhouse from Rita Hayworth’s role in “Pal Joey” to the Tea-Party loving Oscar Weiner in “Menagerie.” Yes. Lee-Visscher is one of the three pigs, the Ayn Rand one whose house is made of brick. Oscar, running for mayor (which would make him Mayor Oscar), is big on hydro-fracking and other untoward activities, that are assailed, he insists, by left-wing propagandists. The other two pigs, whackily played by Sally McCarthy and Johnna Murray, have lost their straw houses and are considering “buying into a condom.” Yes. Malapropisms are part of panto. Of course there is Wolf Bilkser (Walter Bauer), both big and bad. And we have bears, three of them: Mama and Papa and Honey; and we have Goldilocks, a big, robust blonde in bright yellow with hairy legs and a bass voice played by Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon. Yes. I almost forgot. Cross dressing is vital to panto, too. And so is music, which prompts “Menagerie” to work in themes and numbers from “West Side Story,” (interracial love matches, in this case between a pig and a bear), “South Pacific” (same thing) and songs such as “The Girl From Ipanema” (perhaps the same theme, but I’m not sure. In any event, it was a great song). In the end, love prevails, evil evaporates and not one of the guys gets a run in his stockings. “Menagerie à Trois” runs at the Ghent Playhouse through Dec. 11. For tickets and information, call 518-392-6264, or go to www.ghentplayhouse.org. Aglet Theatre Company continued its series of plays on marriage, last week, with Steven Dietz’s “Fiction,” about a man, his wife, their diaries and the man’s lover. Or maybe not. This is a brisk, witty piece niftily played by Mark Sternlof as Michael; Amanda Roberts as his wife, Linda, and Amanda Lederer as Abby, the administrator at a writer’s colony attended by Michael. This was an interesting choice after Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and Strindberg’s turgid “Dance of Death.” We’ve had marriage dark; marriage darker yet. And here, at last, marriage interesting. The series continues with Neil Simon’s “Chapter Two,” March 31 at BTF’s Unicorn Theatre, and back at the Bok Gallery, April 14. 860-435-6928; www.aglettheatre.net.

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